Making the web work for you
Last week Jess and I ran a session called ‘Making the web work for you’ as part of a seminar series for researchers. The aim of the session was to introduce researchers to some online tools for finding and managing information. We covered the following:
- RSS feeds
- start pages
- search alerts
- table of contents alerts
- social bookmarking
The session had fairly poor attendance with only 3 of the 6 who had booked actually turning up. If we run it again we need to think more about how we market it to ensure researchers see the relevance of these tools to their work. The small number did however aid the second half of the session in which we had a group discussion about the nature of finding and managing information.
We gave the group two prompts to get the discussion started:
- How do you currently find information about your topic?
- How might you use some of the tools we have introduced today to get this information in future?
In answer to the first question the most common approach was to visit the websites of a few trusted sources or to read their print publications. This however seemed to be a fairly ad hoc process which they followed when time allowed. When asked how they kept up with and collaborated with their peers each said they were members of professional networks but their interaction with these was largely through organised events and newsletters.
Two of the attendees had no previous experience using any of the tools we had introduced. The second question brought out a lot of their fears about this new technology. Their main reservation was that RSS feeds would lead to information overload. We tried to reassure them that they are still in control – it’s up to them which sites they subscribe to and how often they read them. It’s about routine and a realisation that there’s no obligation to read every update in full.
Another concern that kept coming up was about relevance and authority. For example there’s still a perception that the only people on Twitter are celebrities and people talking about what they had for lunch. What we aimed to show them through examples was that the same trusted sources whose websites they visited and other researchers within their fields were also providing information through blogs, Twitter, Delicious and many other social media sites.
By the end of the session the two attendees who had no prior experience both said they would start by creating iGoogle pages and setting up alerts for the regular searches they run on e-journals databases. One was keen to explore Delicious and the other I think I’d almost convinced to try out Twitter.